Sardar Singh has been removed as captain of the Indian mens hockey squad for the Rio Olympics. The 16-member squad, announced here today, would be led by goalkeeper PR Sreejesh and striker SV Sunil would be his deputy. The womens squad would be led by Sushila Chanu while Ritu Rani, the former captain and halfback, could not find a place in the 16-member squad. Haryanas Ritu Rani had been asked to leave the national camp last week, allegedly due to an attitude problem, lack of commitment and poor performance, so her absence from the squad is not a surprise.
But Sardar being stripped of captaincy comes as a big surprise. Among the reasons is Sreejeshs inspiring performance at the Champions Trophy, in which India finished with a silver medal, their best-ever result in the 38-year-history of the six-nation tournament. Another factor is that Sardars magical midfield skills are on the wane. After being rested for the Champions Trophy, he returned to lead the team in a tournament in Spain, in which India finished fifth among six teams.
Chief coach Roelant Oltmans said that Sardar had been removed as captain in order reduce the burden on him. Sardar was taking too much responsibilities because of which he was not performing at the level that is expected of him, he said. Oltmans also said that Sardar had been affected by the allegations of sexual exploitation made against him by an Indian-origin British hockey player.
Overall, the squad has a settled look with several experienced campaigners. The squad has five players from Punjab (Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinder, Manpreet Singh, Aakashdeep Singh and Ramandeep Singh) and two (Surender Kumar and Sardar Singh) from Haryana. Odishas ever-reliable defender Birendra Lakra, who is still recovering from a knee surgery, is the only notable player absent from the squad. The womens squad has six players from Haryana Navjot Kaur, Monika, Rani Rampal, Savita, Poonam Rani and Deepika. Rani Rampal was a strong contender for the role of captain, but the selectors chose to give this responsibility to Sushila. This will be the first time in 36 years that the Indian womens hockey team will be participating at the Olympic Games.